A Short Story by Kapal Dhir *
On the outskirts of the town was a huge Banyan tree. Its majestic stature attracted many inhabitants of the village. Many others living in the nearby villages were also proud of the tree. It provided shelter from the scorching heat to the passers-by, and to the stray cattle and pets belonging to inhabitants of those villages. When the burning heat of the summer noons was unbearable, the birds took shelter in the dense branches of the tree. The mornings and evenings always witnessed the chirping birds around, enjoying the cool breeze of the open surroundings. The tree was, in fact, protecting all with its umbrella-like branches, or was it a canopy over the head of the tall Banyan tree-king, which like old-time rulers always loved and cared for the subjects?
Govardhan and Sadanand were also born and brought up in the village. They were bosom friends and were proud of this relationship. They had many common interests, one of which was the same love and affection to the Banyan tree. At least twice a week, they had their evening walks together to the tree and thus they shared their sentiments about the tree with the villagers also. However, Govardhan had a visit to the tree almost daily, as his school where he was a teacher, was just a kilometre farther from the tree. He used to go to his school by bicycle and always passed by a road just touching the boundary of the tree. Sadanand had his own grocery shop in the centre of the town, therefore his visits to the tree were not so frequent.
One morning, news spread in the town that some persons have cut the tree. The villagers rushed to the site in different groups. When Sadanand reached the spot, he found many villagers assembled there. Goverdhan was already there, as it was his school timing. The entire village was in the mournful state. Even the cattle were just sitting there with their heads down, probably feeling the same pang as did the villagers. The crows, pigeons and other birds that have had their nests in the tree branches, were quiet as though they had been caught in a trap by a hunter. The general feeling was mournful as if some elderly person of the village has passed away. The tree was the life-line of the village and all and sundry were emotionally attached to it. The elders of the village were just discussing that the one who has cut the tree would surely earn the curse of all who always sought shelter under the tree A few educated persons of the village were advising others of the benefits of the trees – they prevent the erosion of the soil, they help in bringing rain and above all, the Banyan tree always sheds oxygen. Just a mischief of some body, or his desire to sell the wood of the fallen tree stealthily, cost so much to the society, particularly to the villagers who are now deprived of the loving and protecting shadow.
Time is a great healer and the grief in the hearts of the villagers also started fading with the passing of each day. They also got used to live without that tree. But every time Govardhan passed that way to his school, his eyes unintentionally slipped to the site where a broken trunk of about 4 feet was still there as a reminder of its past. On each of his visits, his wounds were renewed again and again. Often he talked of this situation to Sadanand and the latter could do nothing except pouring some pieces of advice into his ears like ‘ Do not get too much involved or attached to that thought’.
One day, Sadanand found Govardhan in a very desperate mood. Considering that the old wound of the tree has again overshadowed Govardhan’s mind, Sadanand sought to console him as usual. But no, Govardhan was not obsessed of the thought of the tree this time. It was the marriage of his sister Urmila that was occupying his mind. Govardhan confided with Sadanand that Govardhan’s father was asking from the son some finanacial help so that the marriage ceremonies be carried out smoothly. The amount asked for was Rs.10,000/- which Govardhan felt he could ill-afford to pay. What disturbed him the most was how the father could get to know that Govardhan had separately held some amount in Bank’s fixed deposit, which he thought was a well kept secret. “After all it is primarily the father’s duty to perform the marriage of Urmila and that my savings should not be touched”, Goverdhan opined in front of Sadanand. “And if at all I have to contribute some amount to this cause, it should be just nominal and not that big.” he asserted.
Well, Sadanand flashed a smile to Govardhan, which was more consoling than accusing.
“Govardhan” said Sadanand, “Please imagine the Banyan tree in the life of your father, and protect this human tree from falling. This human tree has throughout been extending his loving shadows on you, more so in bringing up and educating you. Now is the time to express your true love towards this tree. If that falls, only a feeling of remorse shall remain with you as was the case on the fall of the Banyan tree.”
“But the amount is still big”. Protested Govardhan.
“Alright”, said Sadanand. “Ürmila is as much my sister as yours, and also I have always loved your father, as my own. Please don’t mind, if I also contribute some thing in this kitty. But you need not tell it to your father. Only take the entire amount of Rs10,000/- to him claiminging that it was your own gift to your sister.” At first, Govardhan did not agree to this new proposal, but under wise counselling of his friend Sadanand, he consented..
But, lo, to the astonishment of Govardhan, his father refused to accept the money. “Now this money is of no use to me. On your earlier refusal, the only course I was left with was to go to the father of the bride-groom and open my cards before him that my financial condition was a great constraint in this marriage. You know what he did? He embraced me and said ‘Brother, I never expect any dowry from you. All I need is that you bid farewell to your daughter only in three clothes, but with lots of love to the young couple. Shower over them your blessings like the shadows of the Banyan tree’
“ So, my dear son,” continued Goverdhan’s father. “Money is great, but greater is the sentiment of the groom’s father whose heart is as big as the Banyan tree and he understands well what the shadow means to those who receive it, and also those who miss it.”
Now Govardhan was speechless.